Aesthetic Dermatology Update

Laser surgery precautions as clinics begin to reopen amid COVID-19


Protective measures recommended for cosmetic procedures have recently been published by Dover et al. in Facial Plastic Surgery & Aesthetic Medicine. The manuscript, titled “A path to resume aesthetic care Project AesCert Guidance Supplement – practical considerations for aesthetic medicine professionals supporting clinic preparedness in response to the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak,” provides thorough, detailed recommendations on all aspects of protection and preparedness for aesthetic clinical practices.

Dr. Naissan O. Wesley, a dermatologist who practices in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Dr. Naissan O. Wesley

While health care offices, professional organizations, and governmental agencies come up with the optimal plans and protocols to keep patients, staff, and communities safe from COVID-19, specific guidelines for laser surgeries have been difficult to discern in this uncharted territory. During the last pandemic, the 1918 Spanish flu, caused by an H1N1 virus, laser procedures didn’t exist. Discussion among dermatologists and laser surgeons, including the aforementioned publication, have led to the following initial office recommendations (subject to change).

Office preparation and safety including:

  • Prescreening patients for symptoms.
  • Social distancing in the office, including waiting room areas (or eliminating waiting areas and bringing patients into exam rooms upon arrival).
  • Decreasing patient load and increasing length of appointment times.
  • Having no additional visitors during patient appointments, unless necessary (minor, caregiver).
  • Patients wearing masks to appointments and hand washing/sanitizing upon arrival/departure.
  • Providers wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) during visits.
  • Instituting office disinfectant checklists.

For nonablative laser surgery specifically, especially for therapy of the face and neck, recommendations include the following:

  • Lasers and office areas are thoroughly sanitized between each procedure.
  • Providers wear appropriate PPE, including N95 masks if possible, wraparound safety glasses, gloves, as well as strong consideration of face shields).
  • The duration and number of procedures should be limited, as should intraprocedure conversations and close face-to-face proximity with patient’s airways.
  • Lasers with increased plume, including laser tattoo removal and laser hair removal, are the procedures with the most concern with regards to viral particle or infection transmission.

PPE is recommended (including masks – N95 if available – gloves, and face shield), as well as evacuator suction systems of the two-stage filtration type, and/or negative room pressure if available. For air-filtration evacuator suction systems, the device vacuum must be held within 2 inches of the treatment area for the best efficacy. Some have suggested performing laser tattoo removal through a hydrogel patch to help eliminate plume, which may also increase the cost of the procedure and may depend on the availability of the patches themselves. Nothing has been published on the use of the hydrogel patch in laser hair removal. Shaving or trimming of hairs prior to the procedure is critical.

Dr. Lily Talakoub, McLean (Va.) Dermatology and Skin Care Center

Dr. Lily Talakoub

While pulse dye and intense pulsed light (IPL) lasers have generally been deemed safer to use during the COVID-19 pandemic – with appropriate protective gear and general office precautions – I would recommend being mindful of potential plume created when using these lasers in hair-bearing areas. IPL is generally avoided in these regions, unless specific filters are used for hair removal treatment. But if use an IPL in a hair-bearing region, shaving or trimming of the hairs with the above precautions should be done first to reduce plume. As with all face-to-face procedures, the above PPE, contact, and intraprocedure conversation precautions should be taken.

Nonablative fractional resurfacing lasers are areas in which more questions lie. Some providers are comfortable performing nonablative fractional lasers with protective gear and air filtration systems, while others are recommending delaying these procedures until more information is available. The question essentially involves whether infection risk is higher with these procedures because of plume and if depth of penetration of the laser can release viral particles.

In addition to the other precautions above, with the high transmissibility of COVID-19, I would recommend considering precleansing the treatment area with soap and water or a sterile prep that won’t irritate the skin, which has activity against coronaviruses. A study by Kampf et al. demonstrated that coronaviruses can persist on surfaces such as metal, glass, or plastic for up to 9 days (human skin surface unknown) but can be effectively inactivated by surface disinfection procedures with 62%-71% ethanol, 0.5% hydrogen peroxide, or 0.1% sodium hypochlorite within 1 minute. Other biocidal agents that may be more tolerable on the skin surface, such as 0.05%-0.2% benzalkonium chloride or 0.02% chlorhexidine digluconate were less effective. Washing the face with soap and water may be the most tolerated and easiest cleansing method. Face-to-face respiratory transmission should be mitigated by the aforementioned methods.

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